White Evangelicals, Islam and American Values

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According to the Public Religion Research Institute’s survey, “What it Means to be American: Attitudes towards Increasing Diversity in America Ten Years after 9/11,” “Nearly 6-in-10 white evangelical Protestants believe the values of Islam are at odds with American values, but majorities of Catholics, non-Christian religiously unaffiliated Americans, and religiously unaffiliated Americans disagree.”

If the percentage is accurate, what does this say about American Evangelicalism? That white Evangelicals’ skin color often shapes their perception of Islam? Could it be that white Evangelicals are biased against Arabs and that this prejudice shapes their view of Islam, even though there are, I believe, more Asian Muslims than Arab Muslims? Could it be that white Evangelicals often have nostalgic and/or narrow views of what it means to be American—’white and Christian like me’?

Some white Evangelicals might think they are simply more spiritually and culturally discerning than other Christian groups and the broader populace, and that they understand better what Christian values, American values, and the values of Islam really are (the last set of values being viewed as out of step with the former two). But do Christian values and American values really line up well together? It seems as if many white Evangelicals think they do. Still, could it be that what has gone on for so long is really a subsuming of Christian values under those of America? If so, perhaps the conversation with Islam will cause the church to perceive well where their real fight can be found–not with Islam, but with the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12) that often distort the church’s vision and cause it to align itself with this power or principality rather than the person of Christ and his kingdom reality.

These questions reflect my own consternation with what I find to be a certain kind of cultural hegemony within American Evangelicalism. My hope is that Evangelicalism in this country will become increasingly diverse and expand its vision, missional values, and public witness to the kingdom of God in Christ in view of the Bible even while developing greater openness to various people groups and religious traditions in American society today.

About Paul Louis Metzger

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including "Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths" and "Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church." These volumes and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.

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  • Kenny c.

    A big factor which shapes Evangelicals perception and therefore beliefs about Islam is which media outlets they are informed by. Right wing media outlets are the source of much Evangelical thought about the world, whereas the other demographics in the study are probably informed eslewhere , maybe with less ignorance.

  • http://www.religious-diplomacy.org/evangelichapter John W. Morehead

    A great essay, Paul. If only you had more space to develop these thoughts. In my view Evangelical biases and stereotypes are reinforced by but not created by the Right wing media. As you and I have argued before in an other venue, Evangelicals should consult a variety of media outlets across an ideological spectrum. In addition, we need to overcome our religious illiteracy, develop a loving orthopathy toward those in other religions, and experiment with a new biblical hermeneutical for interreligious engagement that moves from hostility and confrontation to peace and grace. Thanks for your work.

  • Saba Ahmed

    Thank you from an American Muslim! :)

  • John Compton

    You are using such big words I cannot tell exactly what you mean. If you mean we should be willing to let Muslims take over the World so we can reach some of them for the Lord and his kingdom rather than defending ourselves against their onslaught. I guess I agree with you, though I am wishing for another path. I have a way, non violent but probably effective to slow the Islamitization of the US and Canada, but I am sure it will not be taken seriously or acted upon. In the mean time I am hoping for the return of the Messiah. If you mean, we should find common ground with Islam, that is like saying you are going to find common ground with the Aztecs. You will have to compromise the truth too much. Maybe you haven’t reached out to enough Muslims yet. Try this, “I will never convert to Islam and I don’t believe Mohammad was a prophet sent from God.” See how far that gets you.

    • Sven

      See, it’s stuff like this. You’ll find that ‘world domination’ is not one of the five pillars of Islam. Can you name a single country that has been “Islamized” in the last fifty years? Do you honestly think the US, Canada, or any European nation is under threat of some Islamic takeover? Have you ever actually spoken to a Muslim?

    • http://theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

      I can’t tell if this is satire or real. But I have told several of my Muslim friends over the years that I don’t think Mohammad was a prophet sent from God and therefor could never be a Muslim. As you may be able to tell, my head is still attached to my neck and I live openly under my own name. In fact, my husband was raised Muslim until he was 11 and his family converted to Christianity. When he meets a Muslim, one of the first things he does is share this fact with them and recites one of the prayers he remembers for them. Yet, despite being an apostate. he continued to be welcomed at our Muslim friend’s homes and also still has his head attached to his body and lives openly under his own name without fear. Funny that, eh?

  • http://theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    Interestingly, I have been having conversations with a young man from Algeria recently about our religious beliefs – he is Muslim and I am Christian. I have found that our attitudes are very, very close to each other right up until we get to the subject of end times. Then his prejudices start to creep out and he sounds more like a far-right white Evangelical than anything else. Only someone who doesn’t know any actual Muslims would think that Islam is not compatible with American society. Ignorance is bliss. Or stupidity.

  • Peter Novochekhov

    Can you, please, list American values and Muslim values? Unless you define the values, discussion is pointless.

    • Mark

      Peter’s is the most insightful comment of all, and I hope it is one of the first for which Dr. Metzger develops a subsequent post.

  • Taylor

    I need a bit of clarification as I belong in that white evangelical camp and I can be a little slow to catch on at times. If we understand American values as secularization, liberalism, and democracy, Christian Values do not equal American values; and those values then do not equal Islamic values. Non of these equal each other. Maybe it’s just a conservative camp of Islam, but as I understand it, Islamic values do indeed differ from American values. Mawdudi and Qutb speak of the comprehensive nature of the religion, the desire for Shari’a to be fully implemented in order to function properly, and the need for the Quran to be taken seriously. Both speak about these ideas being at odds with the West (i.e. American culture) and the democratic rule. Granted, I know there are modernists who are understanding the Quran’s teachings in a contemporary context and (also inspired by Qutb) want a democratic state. But, while not evil and violent like the media claims, Islam is still at odds with American values. But this same stuff SHOULD be said about Christianity. Christian Nationalism shouldn’t exist. America is not our god. Our first allegiance should be Christ. The only people that should really worry are nonreligious nationalists, no?

  • Lu G.

    I think the attitude of white evangelicals toward Muslims is very strongly influenced by the Zionist movement and that if we show any support for Muslims it is believed we are compromising our relationship with Israel. Unfortunately, that is very wrong, not to mention that today’s Nation of Israel has very little in common with Biblical Israel. Most white evangelicals equate Pro-Israel with being Anti-Muslim. Very bad theology as well as very bad politics.

  • Paul Louis Metzger

    To the respondents: Thank you for all the stimulating reflections and questions. Generally speaking, I ponder what is offered in response and develop new posts that account for points made by respondents. While some of the responses do not directly relate to what I wrote in the post, I will try and account for various questions raised to further the conversation in the days and weeks ahead.

  • http://www.religious-diplomacy.org/evangelichapter John W. Morehead

    I am pleased to see this brief essay receiving so much discussion. Those passionate about such issues may be interested in the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy (www.religious-diplomacy.org/evangelichapter). We work to prepare Evangelicals for interreligious encounters in ways that recognize our very real differences with others, but communicating in ways that are civil without compromise. We have a “Loving Our Religious Neighbors” educational program, and some of the resource links at the bottom of the website (including further essays by Dr. Metzger and myself) that may be of interest. Take a look.

  • http://www.ethnicembraceusa.net Brian Considine

    Very well said, Dr. Metzger. The fact is that Evangelicalism is becoming more diverse due to the diaspora peoples who are coming with a vibrant faith in Christ and increasing rapidly in number. White Evangelicals need to embrace this idea or we will become increasingly irrelevant. See also the “Next Evangelicalism – Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity” by Soong Cha Rah.

    The problem I find with most White Evangelicals, of which I happen to be one, is that most do not have a Biblical theology of God’s mission or understand the heart of God for the “nations.” Those are ideas that we develop in the Perspectives of the World Christian Movement study program. I can’t tell you the number of students who come to me after 5 weeks of life-changing eye opening Biblical study (the whole course is 15 weeks) and say “how come I never heard this before? I’ve been in church for 20-30 years!”

    The majority of white Evangelicals are Biblically illiterate and studies bear this out. White Evangelicals only claim to have knowledge but in my experience what they possess is a syncretic nationalism that is weighed heavily toward our individualistic American values rather than the Word of God. We largely have a Christian people who have an idea of the salvation work of the cross for themselves but miss the supremacy of Christ in culture and therefore live in fear of others, be they Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or others who are different. Islamphobia is a heart condition of many White Evangelicals and sadly we have very little knowledge of how to interact with others in the love of Christ for all peoples.

    However the Mission America Coalition (U.S. Lausanne Committee), in partnership with the Ethnic American Network, is working to change that through a prayer and awareness initiative called Ethnic Embrace USA (www.EthnicEmbraceUSA.net).

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